Startups Initiatives for Innovative Technologies in Space Research; NASA’s Benefits

Several startups have started investing in their venture to bring innovative technologies for global space research. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is likely to extract benefits from this venture.

Journey for Global Space Research

Space research has been recently a focal point of several startups investment since the market for space-based technologies and devices are rapidly expanding. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has brought a revolution in the space research after it started launching its first privately-financed rocket into orbit in 2008.

Many giant companies including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin also marked its investment to involve in the research and focused to expand its business on lifting satellites and humans into orbit. Over a decade after the Musk’s opening of space business, startups have invested funding in space sector businesses to develop advanced technologies and devices including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, phased array radar, space-based solar power, tiny satellites, and services.

Space Angels, a New York City-based angel investment and venture capital firm, is one of the startup investors that has actively involved in the space economy and development of technologies. The startup, founded in 2007, was reported having invested around $5 billion into space technologies in the first three quarters of 2019 with its partners, Bezos’ Amazon.com Inc. contributing $1.4 billion.

Referring to the global expansion of the space business, the CEO of Space Angels, Chad Anderson estimated, investors have poured nearly $24 billion into 509 companies since 2009.” Anderson described, “SpaceX triggered the transformation not just by offering competition to NASA but publishing its prices for a launch. Before that revelation, space was really an opaque market, making it difficult for potential competitors to price their products. It’s been a really big decade for commercial space.”

LeoLabs, Inc., the Silicon Valley space mapping startup, has developed technologies to track small satellites and built phased array radars for the satellite-related projects in three locations: Alaska, Texas and New Zealand. According to CNBC, LeoLabs and its several partnerships with including Marc Bell Capital Partners, Seraphim Capital, and Space Angels have raised $17 million for space ventures.

Moreover, SkyWatch, based in Waterloo, Ontario, had recently accumulated a $10 million round of funding led by San Francisco’s Bullpen Capital to develop a service for retrieving satellite data. SpeQtral, based in Singapore, has a project to build encryption keys that can protect space-to-Earth communications. Chune Yang Lum, CEO of SpeQtral, revealed that it received $1.9 million funding led by Space Capital, the venture arm of Space Angels.

NASA’s Benefits

In September 2019, NASA, the US-based leading space agency, had allotted $43.2 million to 14 American companies for a contribution of technologies for NASA’s plan for its ‘Moon-to-Mars’ project. Over the last five years, NASA had awarded more than $120 million for various Tipping Point projects with the help of the private enterprises.

Through these projects, NASA has been able to pursue the development of space technologies and save the agency money. NASA’s Ames Research Center (ARC) had made a deal in December 2019 with the Founders Institute, a renowned start-up accelerator, to facilitate some of its technology available to start-up entrepreneurs.

NASA, through innovative technologies, now focused on space-based solar power projects.  John Mankins, a former NASA physicist, has been the key vocal for the project. As revealed by CNBC, “Mankins believes that satellite would capture solar energy, convert it to microwaves and beam it down to Earth, where it would be converted into electricity.” This project could deliver the availability of electricity in many parts across the globe.

Anderson expressed, “the solar power project would require a significant amount of CapEx, and their paybacks are much longer than the typical 10-year lifetime of a venture capital fund.” However, focusing on the emerging climate concerns, Anderson stated that “the cost of putting “stuff” in orbit with the technology that helps in converting clean energy from space may become an attractive entrepreneurial proposition.”

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